Thais rejoice at success of dramatic cave rescue
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Thais rejoice at success of dramatic cave rescue

Health officials say the boys, ages 11-16, are in good physical and mental health

People celebrate after divers evacuated some of the 12 boys and their coach who were trapped at Tham Luang cave in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand, July 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
People celebrate after divers evacuated some of the 12 boys and their coach who were trapped at Tham Luang cave in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand, July 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

CHIANG RAIThailand (AFP) — Thailand celebrated the successful mission to free 12 boys and their football coach from a cave Wednesday, with the nation heaping praise on the rescue team as the triumphant tagline “Hooyah” spread across social media.

The nerve-shredding three-day mission ended on Tuesday with the final group of four boys and the coach emerging from the cave which had held them captive for 18 days.

The rescue received blanket coverage in Thai media with newspapers The Nation running a “Hooyah! Mission accomplished” and the Bangkok Post emblazoned with “All Wild Boars saved.”

Despite spending days in the dark, dank cave health officials said the boys — who are aged 11 to 16 — are in good physical and mental health.

A Thai well wisher puts a poster to pray for boys and their soccer coach who have been trapped since June 23, in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand, on July 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

“It might be because they were all together as a team, helping each other out,” Thongchai Lertwilairattanapong, Inspector General of the Public Health Ministry told reporters, singling out their 25-year-old coach for keeping their spirits high.

The group remains in quarantine in Chiang Rai hospital, where one of the last batch of people to leave the cave has “minor pneumonia,” he said.

Some of the first boys to be freed have been able to see their parents, he added.

The saga of the “Wild Boars” gripped the world, with the lives of the group hanging in the balance as the threat of heavy rain injected urgency into an already perilous extraction bid.

On Wednesday a few hundred Thai schoolchildren gathered opposite the hospital, looking up at the building that will be home to the rescued football team for the coming days.

Their teacher led them in a chant thanking “everyone who came to help make the mission succeed,” in a small reflection of a wider gratitude toward the foreign experts who helped extract the stricken group.

Risky rescue

Rescuers had weighed up several options to save the boys, including keeping them in the cave through the months-long monsoon season.

But they were prodded into the dangerous task of “diving out” the team through submerged chambers and claustrophobic passages as oxygen levels in the cave plummeted and rains menaced.

The group were led out in three batches by a team of 13 international divers flanked by the Thai Navy SEALs, who greeted each successful rescue with a “Hooyah” on their Facebook page.

That signoff quickly turned into a hashtag shared across social media, where luminaries of business, politics and sport extended their best wishes to the team and the rescuers.

Thai students smile as they hold pictures of 12 boys and a football coach in front of the hospital after the group, who were rescued after being trapped in a nearby cave for 18 harrowing days, have being brought for observation in the northern Thai city of Chiang Rai on July 11, 2018 (AFP PHOTO/TANG CHHIN Sothy)

Authorities have shrouded the details of the rescue bid in secrecy, with fragments of information emerging about the heroic efforts of the dive team.

The dangers of the rescue were brought into sharp relief last Friday by the death of a retired Thai Navy SEAL as he ran out off air in the flooded cave complex as the extraction plans were being laid.

“I’m very happy and relieved. I haven’t been able to sleep for days. I’m happy that the boys are out too,” Khamluh Guntawong, grandfather of the team coach Ekkapol Chantawong, said.

“Ekk really loves and cares for the boys,” he added, of a figure who is emerging as something of a hero.

The group became trapped in rising floodwaters and were found nine days later emaciated and disheveled on a muddy ledge, with water lapping ominously below.

The saga captivated a global audience for over two weeks, rewarding them with a remarkable happy ending.

French football star Paul Pogba dedicated his country’s World Cup semifinal victory over Belgium to “the heroes of the day, well done boys, you are so strong” he tweeted.

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